March 3, 2006

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

Catholic social teaching: The Church’s rich treasure

(Editor’s Note: With this issue, we begin a new monthly column,“Faith, Hope and Charity,” by David Siler, executive director of the Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries.)

First in an eight-part series

Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical letter of his papacy, Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), provides a wonderful opportunity to further explore a dimension of the Catholic faith that he makes mention of throughout the second part of his letter referred to as Catholic social teaching.

Other times called Catholic social thought or the social teachings of the Catholic Church, these principles are derived primarily through Scripture and developed over centuries of practice that have been summarized in seven basic themes:

  • Life and Dignity of the Human Person
  • Call to Family, Community and Participation
  • Rights and Responsibilities
  • Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
  • Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
  • Care of God’s Creation
  • Solidarity

In many circles, this social doctrine is often referred to as the “best-kept secret of the Catholic faith.”

In order for this rich doctrine to become more widely understood, realized and practiced, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2004 published the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which brings together all the official documents published by the Church throughout history that deal with life in society.

I share the sentiments expressed by Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who stated in his introductory letter to the compendium, “I am pleased that the volume Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church has been published, sharing with you the joy of offering it to the faithful and to all people of good will, as food for human and spiritual growth, for individuals and communities alike.”

In presenting the compendium to Cuba’s bishops during a pastoral visit in February, the cardinal noted that the Church’s social doctrine takes into consideration people’s material and spiritual needs, and underscores “the deep sense of our common life, of our struggle for justice.” He called the compendium an important tool for “openness and dialogue” with believers of other religions and with all people who strive for the common good, based on the fundamental values of “humanity, respect for the dignity of every person, and the desire for development, reconciliation and peace.”

If you embark on reading the entire compendium, its secrets will be vividly revealed to you. However, in this small space, I wish to reveal just a portion of the secrets—enough for a seed to be planted in your heart, where the Spirit can nurture it in a way that will bring more love and joy to your own life and the lives of those around you. This may seem a lofty goal; however, this is truly what social doctrine is all about.

In a series of columns beginning in April, I will further explore each of the seven themes to help us grow in our faith in light of Catholic social teaching and its implications in our lives. †


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